Elevated railway

An elevated railway (also known as an El rail, El train or simply an El for short, and, in Europe, as an overhead railway) is a rapid transit railway with the tracks above street level on a viaduct or other elevated structure (usually constructed of steel, concrete, or brick). The railway may be standard gauge, narrow gauge, light rail, monorail, or a suspension railway. Elevated railways are usually used in urban areas where there would otherwise be a large number of level crossings. Most of the time, the tracks of elevated railways that run on steel viaducts can be seen from street level.

NYCSub JMZ Williamsburg 2
New York City Subway J train crosses the East River separating Brooklyn and Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge.
Two Wuppertal Schwebebahn trains meet above street


The earliest elevated railway was the London and Greenwich Railway on a brick viaduct of 878 arches, built between 1836 and 1838. The first 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of the London and Blackwall Railway (1840) was also on a viaduct. During the 1840s there were other schemes for elevated railways in London that did not come to fruition.[1]

From the late 1860s onward elevated railways became popular in US cities. The New York West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway operated with cable cars from 1868 to 1870, thereafter locomotive-hauled. This was followed by the Manhattan Railway in 1875, the South Side Elevated Railroad, Chicago (1892–), and the elevated lines of the Boston Elevated Railway (1901–). The Chicago transit system itself is known as "L", short for "elevated". The Berlin Stadtbahn (1882) and the Vienna Stadtbahn (1898) are also mainly elevated.

The first electric elevated railway was the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which operated through Liverpool docks from 1893 until 1956.

In London, the Docklands Light Railway is a modern elevated railway that opened in 1987 and, since, has expanded.[2] The trains are driverless and automatic.[3]

Another modern elevated railway is Tokyo's driverless Yurikamome line, opened in 1995.[4]


Monorail systems

Most monorails are elevated railways, such as the Disneyland Monorail System (1959), the Tokyo Monorail (1964), the Sydney Monorail (1988–2013), the KL Monorail, the Las Vegas Monorail, and the São Paulo Monorail. Many maglev railways are also elevated.

Suspension railways

During the 1890s there was some interest in suspension railways, particularly in Germany, with the Schwebebahn Dresden, (1891–) and the Wuppertal Schwebebahn (1901). H-Bahn suspension railways were built in Dortmund and Düsseldorf airport, 1975. The Memphis Suspension Railway opened in 1982.

The Shonan Monorail and the Chiba Urban Monorail in Japan, despite their names, are suspension railways too.

Suspension railways are usually monorail.

People mover systems

H bahn dortmund1
H-Bahn Dortmund, a monorail suspension people mover

People mover or automated people mover (APM) is a type of driverless grade-separated, mass-transit system. The term is generally used only to describe systems that serve as loops or feeder systems, but is sometimes applied to considerably more complex automated systems. Similar to monorails, Bombardier Innovia APM technology uses only one rail to guide the vehicle along the guideway. APMs are common at airports and effective at helping passengers quickly reach their gates. Several elevated APM systems at airports including the PHX Sky Train at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; AeroTrain at Kuala Lumpur International Airport; and the Tracked Shuttle System at London Gatwick Airport, United Kingdom.

Modern systems

Full Metro System

Roosevelt-avenue-queens-nyc cars driving-under-elevated-railway-line 1980s
Traffic on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, New York City, under the elevated IRT Flushing Line (used by the 7 and <7>​ trains) in the 1980s


People mover

  • Changi Airport Skytrain, an inter-terminal people mover in Singapore
  • H-Bahn, an inter-terminal automated people mover, Germany
  • ATL Skytrain, a people mover at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • MIA Mover, a people mover at Miami International Airport
  • PHX Sky Train, a people mover at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Proposed designs

Image gallery



CTA train NE corner

Chicago "L" Green Line train in Downtown Chicago.


Market Frankford train in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Chinatown station in Los Angeles, California

Cambronne Metro station, Paris September 2013 003

Cambronne station on Métro Line 6 in Paris


A 7 train in New York City, New York


Elevated section of the Docklands Light Railway in London

Bimanbandar Station

Bimanbandar station of the Kolkata Suburban Railway

Thiruvanmiyur MRTS station

Thiruvanmiyur station of the Chennai MRTS

LRT1-Manila towards Taft Station

A 3rd generation train heading to EDSA LRT station of LRT Line 1

Mark I Expo Line train, February 2018

Metro Vancouver's SkyTrain system is mostly elevated, New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada

Kennedy TTC SRT 3013

TTC Line 3 Scarborough RT at Kennedy Station, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

See also


  1. ^ Jack Simmons and Gordon Biddle, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, Oxford University Press, (1997), p.360.
  2. ^ "DLR History Timeline". Transport for London.
  3. ^ "Where are the drivers?" Transport for London.
  4. ^ New Transit Yurikamome website History Retrieved 3 March 2015
  5. ^ Popular Science says Tubular Rail high speed train right for America's crumbling infrastructure

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